Monday, 15 February 2010

Farming and the landscape

Our Czech home is an old farmhouse in a hamlet near Horice Na Sumave in South Bohemia. The village is made up of a number of similar farmhouses and a number of newer houses and cottages. The traditional layout of a village in South Bohemia is of gated courtyard farms fronting on to a green on which there is often a pond and a chapel. Ours is slightly different as it is spread out around a valley.

Each farm was allotted several small parcels or strips of land spread around the village on which the farmer would grow crops or graze animals. I understand that these land parcels were rotated between the farmers. But nevertheless farmers would often end up with small patches of land several miles apart. The land was and is rich, as can be seen by the substantial nature of the farmbuildings.

When the Communists came the land was collectivised and in many villages large ugly concrete collective farm buildings were built. By the end of communism many of the old farm buildings had fallen into such disrepair that they were torn down, converted to another use or left to rot. The restoration of the farmland to private ownership has seen the growth of the commercial, EU-subsidised farms.

Our local farmer has bought in to the new brave new world wholesale, he has filled the fields around the village with cows. Gone is the mixed-use farmland. Gone too are the wildflower-filled haymeadows, the orchards stand unharvested. The old paths are blocked with electric fences. Czech farmers have recently seen the a large drop in milk and grain prices, so great (25%) that they claim they are unable to break even. I wonder whether he now regrets his choice.

Elsewhere in the area there are some welcome developments in farming practice. The number of organic farms is growing, although still quite low, in the Sumava there are now 95 such farms an increase of 12 in 2009 alone.

1 comment:

Karen said...

The farmer's lot is the same all over the world, isn't it? They can't make any money. In the USA, it's the agribusiness companies that are making the money and control the federal agricultural policies. Farmers have bought into the idea that they share the same concerns as agribusiness, but in reality, they don't. In the USA, the monoculture crops used to make cheap food that is making everyone fat (high fructose corn syrup) are subsidized at enormous cost to the taxpayer. The things people should be eating, fruit and vegetables, receive no official encouragement from the government.

It's interesting to read about your unharvested orchards. Knowing Czechs and their frugality, I can't imagine the fruit is wasted. There is a nascent movement in the USA for City Parks and Rec departments to create edible food landscapes for 'gleaners' (people who help themselves to unused fruit). Here's a wonderful little two-minute video made by a University of Wisconsin student describing the whole phenomenon:


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